by Philip Moss
Where were you ten years ago? It’s only when you take the time to reflect that you realise just how many significant moments a decade covers. For D.C Berman, he was releasing his last record – and, as far as we know, the final chapter in the Silver Jews’ magnificent canon. And just when it seemed he may have given up on the music scene for good, despite all sorts of rumours that the Jews would reform, Drag City, his long standing label, announced his return- this time under the new Purple Mountains moniker.
Berman’s work has always been autobiographical, but this self titled record, Purple Mountains, is possibly his most candid to date – as laid bare across almost every track are raw accounts of the disintegration of his recent marriage. She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger outlines the 52 year old’s anti-social tendencies, and has all the witty wordplay you’d expect from the poet laureate of the American alternative music scene. On the plastic country sounding Darkness and Cold he sings, ‘Light of my life is going out tonight as the sun sets in the West – light of my life is going out tonight with someone she just met’. And tinged with even more melancholia, the best song on the record, Nights That Won’t Happen, is the most downbeat of all – this time philosophically tackling his mother’s death, as he faces up to the realisation that certain moments are confined to the past like ghosts.
Musically and melodically, it is also some of his finest ever work: songs that may pass you by on first listen unfurl themselves through repeated listens. Lead single, All My Happiness is Gone, appears breezy, but is again wrapped in aching misery.
When such important figures return after such a long period of time, it would be easy to prematurely gush and get carried away. But Purple Mountains truly does contain some of Berman’s most impressive ever work. It must be noted that there are a couple of near misses too. I Loved Being My Mother’s Son is a rather sickly ode – packed with lazy rhymes – that doesn’t really expand itself beyond the affectionate title. While Storyline Fever does suffer from its throwaway ‘generic indie band’ backing and its gaudy guitars.
While this may be one of the Illinois native’s saddest records, over time, large sections of it will prove to be some of his best. And Berman’s proved he’s not come back to be a legacy artist – like we ever doubted him!
Secret Meeting score: 85